Murder of the Universe contains a trove of treasures.
Explaining King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard to the uninitiated is akin to teaching a foreign language: more questions than answers seem to pop up. Gizzard Lizard and the King Wizard? T? They’re releasing five albums this year? They have how many band members? Why?
Murder of the Universe, the group’s 10th (!!!) album in five years, doesn’t make these answers any easier. Billed as their most story-driven album yet, the Melbourne-based band’s latest effort presents three unique and vaguely interwoven plots: the transformative tale of the “Altered Beast,” the epic battle of “The Lord of Lightning vs Balrog,” and the bleak future of “Han-Tyumi and the Murder of the Universe.” Forged from the warped genius of singer and band leader Stu Mackenzie, this is yet another curious entry into the Gizzverse.
There are many oddities about this collective, but while others would be buried under the gimmickry, King Gizzard remembers the core essence of rock and roll: keep it loud, fast and weird. Taking a page from Hawkwind’s cosmic space rock roar, Murder of the Universe moves at a relentless pace and rarely takes an opportunity to catch its breath.
The sheer rush can reach levels of absurd giddiness. “The Lord of Lightning” tumbles and thrashes about, quicksilver guitar riffage colliding into cardboard drums that crackle and pop. Lyrical references to previous album, Nonagon Infinity, abound in its chant-like refrain, while “Balrog,” The Lord of Lighting’s nemesis, references the melody of Paper Mache Dream Balloon’s “Trapdoor” before ripping into a palm-muted smash of a riff.
The “Altered Beast / Alter Me” saga can be repetitive at times as Mackenzie’s cry of “I think I see/ An altered beast/ By the creek” and accompanying string bending riff is repeated countless times throughout the seven-part saga. Depending on how you view King Gizz, it’s either a thrilling chance to enjoy the boys indulging in jammy mayhem or a repetitive bore. “Altered Beast IV” is the most compelling of the bunch, guitars grinding with gear-like precision as the band descends into time signature madness, but the entire suite is worth listening to with an open mind; its repetitiveness is hypnotic, and subtle changes revealed after multiple listens yield satisfying rewards.
Narration is interspersed throughout the album, first from Leah Senior, her wispy voice giving context to both the “Altered Beast” and “The Lord of Lightning” plots, and then by the robotic humanoid voice of Han-Tyumi. The running narrative may be an appropriate match for the accompanying music videos, but they take a few listens to really sink in. At best, these moments can still sometimes stick out like a sore thumb, especially when listening to songs individually–Murder of the Universe won’t force you to listen to everything in its entirety, but certainly encourages it.
“Han-Tyumi and the Murder of the Universe” takes a left turn, away from the more fantasy-based story lines of the first two sagas, and instead chooses to bask in the dim glow of a computer screen. Han-Tyumi is not only a human turned cyborg but, of course, an anagram for humanity. and this chapter makes no bones about the cause of its doom. “Impertinent and ignorant … Unremembered God / The world fades to black … Welcome to an altered future,” drones our robotic narrator before King Gizz turns in “Digital Black,” an unholy racket that pounds away for a tense two minutes. Synth and harmonica player Ambrose particularly shines in this chapter, matching the chapter’s gloomy story with menacing synths that murmur and stew throughout.
This is not quite the manic rush of noise meets ambitious songwriting that was Nonagon Infinity, nor a take on King Gizzard’s more left field releases like Quarters or Paper Mache Dream Balloon. It exists as a contextual item, filling in the gaps between the shared stories of I’m in Your Mind Fuzz and Nonagon Infinity. An appendix of some sorts, this smacks of gleefully high stakes rock that revels in the technical prowess of the group. Casual fans beware, but for Gizz heads and wonky prog fans alike, Murder of the Universe contains a trove of treasures.